Apr 14, 2022
Introducing Peanut Butter to Baby
5 minute read
Peanuts are among the eight most common food allergies in children. And while it’s fairly easy to avoid peanuts on their own, it can be challenging to completely avoid them in other foods.
Having a child with a peanut allergy, or having a peanut allergy yourself, can be stressful and scary, especially if an allergic reaction occurs. There are ways to reduce the risk of an allergy in your children, however, by gradually exposing them to the right allergens from a young age.
It might sound counterintuitive, but introducing peanut butter to your baby can help them build a tolerance to peanuts and reduce the likelihood of severe allergies or allergic reactions down the road. Here’s what you need to know about giving your baby peanut butter.
What Is the Hygiene Hypothesis?
Allergies and asthma in children are on the rise, and while there are many explanations for why this might be occurring, the “hygiene hypothesis” is one of the most leading theories.
The hygiene hypothesis suggests that children exposed to dirt, pathogens, germs, and allergens at an early age grow to be less likely to suffer from allergies, asthma, or other immune system disorders later in life.
The theory is that these early exposures allow the immune system to build a tolerance from a younger age, helping to prevent children from developing immune sensitivities later on.
This approach posits that we live in a much cleaner society now than we once did, leading to an uptick in the number of people with allergies. Consider the volume of products and advertising for cleaning products and air purifiers designed to “eliminate” dangerous germs. Between excessive cleaning and our lives moving indoors, modern humans are exposed to fewer pathogens than ever.
In fact, some researchers are concerned about the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for exactly these reasons. Since we’ve lived in a hyper-clean environment fueled by social distancing and mask-wearing, some academics are nervous that young children and infants born during the pandemic may not have immune systems that are equipped to deal with foreign substances.
So what does this have to do with peanut allergies?
In the same way that exposing children to allergens and environmental triggers at a young age strengthens their immune system, exposing a baby to peanut butter at a young age can make them more tolerant of peanuts and help to reduce their risk of developing a peanut allergy. The same can be said about other food triggers, too.
This is in stark contrast to previous nutritional guidance, which states that you should not give children high-risk foods in the first 6-12 months of life for fear that they might have a severe allergic reaction.
Increasingly, new research is demonstrating that exposing children to peanut butter at a young age can be more beneficial than harmful.
How Can I Safely Introduce My Baby to Peanut Butter?
Introducing your baby to peanut butter may help avert new allergies — but only if done safely and effectively. Here are a few tips and pointers to keep in mind to ensure your baby’s safety.
Ensure the Baby is Healthy
Give your baby their first taste of peanut butter when they’re healthy and free of other diagnoses. In other words, don’t try to give them peanut butter if they’re sick or are dealing with an existing illness.
If your baby’s immune system is already weak during their first taste, and they have a true food allergy, symptoms can be exacerbated. Further, introducing potential allergens while your baby has cold symptoms or otherwise makes sorting causes and signs of a reaction that much harder.
Do It at Home
Make your first introduction in a safe place. Give your baby their first taste of peanut butter while you’re at home. This allows you to make sure the baby is comfortable and in a safe space so that you can get a better sense of how (or if) they’re reacting to the substance.
Timing and Portions
There are a few rules of thumb as to when and how much peanut or peanut butter your baby should receive.
The European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) recommends in a 2020 update to their food allergy guidelines that peanuts and egg be introduced around 4 to 6 months after birth.
This emerging guidance is based on findings that in populations or regions with a high prevalence of peanut allergy, “introducing regular peanut consumption from 4 to 11 months of life in infants at increased risk probably results in a large reduction in peanut allergy in early childhood compared with completely avoiding peanuts for the first 5 years.”
The science isn’t perfect yet, but most allergy professionals recommend introducing two teaspoons, or about six grams, of peanut butter three times a week to acclimate and build the immune system’s tolerance to peanut protein.
Don’t leap right in with large servings right away. Instead, give your baby small tastes of peanuts or peanut butter to start. Wait ten minutes, and if no reaction occurs, give them the rest of the serving.
It’s also worth noting that due to its sticky and thick consistency, peanut butter can be a choking hazard, as can whole peanuts. For young children, it may make sense to dilute peanut butter in a little water while your child gets used to this consistency. You can also use peanut powder to introduce small amounts of peanut protein in other foods, like mixed into yogurt.
In most cases, parents have nothing to worry about. But for the hyper-vigilant and cautious, small introductions can help ease the parent as much as the baby!
Don’t plan to run off to a playground play-date right away afterward, either. Set aside at least two hours of your day to monitor your baby for reactions. Food allergies sometimes have delayed onset, and symptoms might not appear immediately after ingestion.
Talk To a Professional
If you’re extra concerned about food allergies and your baby, talk to your child’s doctor or an allergist about your fears before getting started on this introduction. They can help you come up with a plan that aligns your fears and your baby’s safety with the most current medical research.
What Should I Do if My Baby Has an Allergic Reaction?
If your baby has a severe allergic reaction to peanut butter, call 911 immediately or take your child to an emergency room. Only a doctor should treat an infant if they’re exhibiting signs of an allergic reaction.
Can You Outgrow Food Allergies?
Even if your child develops a peanut allergy as they get older, they might not be stuck with it their entire lives. While it’s uncommon, around 20% of children will outgrow their peanut allergy by the time they reach adulthood. This is called “food allergy remission”, and why it happens is still not completely understood.
How Can You Treat Peanut Allergies?
If your child grows up with a peanut allergy, there’s currently no perfect cure.
Some medical specialists will also recommend oral immunotherapy (OIT) to try to lessen the severity of symptoms or the risk of an acute reaction. OIT seeks to increase someone’s tolerance to an allergen, like peanut butter, to allow the user a higher threshold before severe symptoms if they were to accidentally ingest the allergen.
The goal with OIT is generally to increase a patient’s tolerance of peanut protein from “dust” to being able to eat an entire peanut without risk of anaphylaxis. For many patients, that can provide significant relief from fear.
While the benefits of OIT in peanut allergy are measurable, the process can be intensive and often requires frequent visits to a clinician for scale-up of the OIT, plus ongoing maintenance. It’s not right for everyone.
How to Live With a Peanut Allergy
While living with a peanut allergy can be frustrating and even unnerving, there are ways to ensure your child’s safety while still enjoying a wide variety of foods.
Avoiding peanuts in pre-packaged foods is generally simple because it is one of eight allergens that must legally be labeled on packaging if the product contains peanuts or was made in a facility that processes the allergen. Be sure to always read ingredient labels if you or your child have a severe peanut allergy.
Today it’s also much easier to use a variety of nut butter substitutes that come close to achieving a peanut buttery mouthfeel and taste. Almond butter and cashew butter are delicious substitutes that you can use in baking or as a condiment instead of peanut butter without sacrificing taste or texture.
If you have an allergy and are exposed to peanut, you should follow the directions you’ve been given by your doctor. Anyone with a peanut allergy should always carry an epinephrine autoinjector with them at all times. Epinephrine is the only treatment that can be life-saving if you’re experiencing anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction that can cause symptoms like throat swelling and difficulty breathing.
Introducing a baby to peanut butter or other common food allergies might seem unsafe, and in fact common knowledge a decade ago was to avoid these allergens during the first year of life.
But when done properly, introducing food allergens like peanut and egg in the first year of life is beneficial in reducing the risk of developing a food allergy in the future.
Giving a baby small amounts of peanut butter can allow the immune system to gain tolerance and become accustomed to these common substances.
Allergies can put a real damper on things. If you’re dealing with what you suspect to be indoor or outdoor allergies, check out Cleared’s free consultation process for personalized allergy treatment options and ongoing support from our care team.
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